Many ports flick on the lights when a cruise ship docks but go dark when the vessel sails away. Here are some destinations with tight cords to the mother ships.
Labadee: Royal Caribbean’s 260-acre private resort in northern Haiti is like an action theme park in the sand. Attractions include kayak tours on Nellie’s Beach, joy rides on the Dragon’s Tail Coaster, a splashy water park in Columbus Cove and the 2,600-foot-long Dragon’s Breath, the world’s longest zipline over water.
Castaway Key: On Disney’s private Bahamian island (birth name Gorda Cay), cruisers cavort with characters who mug for the cameras. Even when Capt. Jack Sparrow is on break, children and adults are fully entertained. A tram toodles around the developed portions of the 1,000-acre isle, dropping guests off at such attractions as two water play areas, massage cabanas, a yoga class and an adults-only beach.
Great Stirrup Cay: Norwegian Cruise Line also stakes a claim on a Bahamian island: a 250-acre parcel once used by American forces to protect East Coast shores during World War II. The emphasis is on water sports — snorkeling, kayaking, an eco-boat tour — plus amphibious thrills, including parasailing and the 175-foot-long Hippo Water Slide. Regent Seven Seas also swings by.
Princess Cays: Princess Cruises lords over more than 40 acres on the southern end of the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. The standout feature is the half-mile white-sand beach, a launching pad for snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and drifting. When it’s time to come in from the water, hit up any of three bars or the barbecue buffet. Cunard also anchors here.
CocoCay: Royal Caribbean’s other private island sits between Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas. The 140-acre isle boasts a bar for each beach (three), plus a straw market, barbecue, nature trails, water sports and Caylana’s Aqua Park, a 20,000-square-foot attraction with floating rock-climbing walls and watery trampolines. Celebrity, part of the Royal family, also drops passengers here.
Half Moon Cay: Holland America shuttles its cruisers to 55 acres of tropical playland, leaving 98 percent of the 2,400-acre Little San Salvador Island to the birds and other wildlife. (The Bahamian National Trusts have designated the island a Wild Bird Reserve.) In addition to stingray swims and eco-lagoon tours, visitors can sign up for a horseback ride that ends with Your Little Pony in the water. Cunard and Carnival also use the island.
Costa Maya: The Mexican port on the Caribbean Sea, between Playa del Carmen and Belize, made a grand return after 2007’s Hurricane Dean. Cruisers can stay close to the ship and swim (around or up to the bar), shop and dine in the resort-style terminal complex, or go farther afield, to the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben or the fishing village of Mahahual.